There are a lot of massive open online courses (MOOCs) today. Some of them are free, other paid. Such courses were all hype couple years ago. Now when we all come down to earth, there are some questions about that courses: how to add them to my education plan and how to choose the best one.
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others definition.
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Almost all MOOCs have the same structure:
- They have educational materials: video or text lectures, code examples, and so on
- They have exercises: tests, code assignments
- They provide a connection between students and teachers
From this point of view, all courses are equal. But a lack of any component could make the course less valuable or even useless. If lectures aren't relevant, event brilliant exercises will not make course good. Vice versa, a bunch of good lectures without exercises is just a bunch of good lectures. They couldn't give you any relevant experience. They just give you dead knowledge.
I say about the case then the quality of materials are OK. But sometimes happens that MukundKumar Mishra has written about:
As soon as a new thing comes into industry. Many company start claiming real project based training. The problem with beginner is those are not aware of what should be the right course and market is flooded with courses which are based on something industry do not need. Till beginners understand those are cheated the fast growing IT industry moves on and the delay causes irreparable loss.
To avoid this trap I have developed several simple rules. I follow them every time I decide to join a course.
Choose the right platform
I prefer well-known platforms: Udemy, Pluralsight, Coursera and Stepic. The last two are my personal favorites. Stepic contains courses mostly in Russian. But both platforms have similar features: video lectures, tests, and auto-checked code assignments.
For most programming courses auto-checked assignment is crucial. It gives you instant feedback. Although it's impossible or extremely hard to develop good automatic tests for some topics, I rather choose a course with bad tests than without any tests. Of course, I'll prefer code review made by someone from a course team, but such courses are rare. In some cases, tests could replace code assignments, but such courses are significant less valuable for me.
Choose the right author
It's very easy to do if we tell about Coursera. Only colleges and universities can make courses for that platform. Professors adopt or make new courses for Coursera. This platform has filtered out trash courses. You could find there a course that isn't OK. But it very difficult to find there a course that absolutely irrelevant.
Other platforms without so tight selection demand more accurate course selection. I usually check authors info: their experience, blogs, linked profiles and so on. I check everything I found. Basically, I try to understand whether the author knows the ropes.
Don't forget to find out other courses from the author. I believe in specialization. If an author has courses in every topic you could imagine, I'll not buy any of these courses. It's impossible to make a good course in Java Spring Framework and a good one in derivative trading. I even hesitate about a possibility for one guy to make good Frontend and Backend courses.
Choose the right course
Finding information about a course may be tricky. Sometimes, the only information you have is user reviews and ratings on a platform. I usually read several 5-star reviews, several 1-star reviews. It gives me some information about what is good and bad in the course. Then I read a couple of 3-star or 4-star reviews. Usually, they are less emotional, more balanced, and more detailed.
However, I'm a bit paranoid. Event working with popular MOOC platforms I'm not sure about the quality of user reviews. For me, it is important to find course reviews on any independent site. Quora is one of the best places for it.
In conclusion, I should say that these rules are flexible. If a course covers a very interesting narrow topic, it is OK for me if nobody's written a review on Quora. Although I'll check author profile anyway.